As part of my commitment to low impact, simple living, I live in a tiny, very low-tech house and try to keep my possessions and clutter down to a manageable hum. I basically have two rooms: a open first floor with areas of living room, library/yoga space and a kitchen, and a spacious upstairs sleeping loft. I work and live here with my two dogs and a sweetie, Iuval, who keeps extending his “visit” in fits and starts and chunks. We’ll see how that goes…
I love my little cabin in the woods, plywood shack though it may be. But the electrical hasn’t been updated since it was built in 1972 and all the outlets, lights, refrigerator, etc., inside the house were run to one breaker! This might have worked for back-to-the-landers in 1972 but it has been frying this Hippie Chick’s computers, so something needed to be done!
Since I live at Heathcote Community, repairs and renovations are approved by and paid for by the community. And often a member with the germane skills may complete the work. But since we’re finishing Polaris, our new straw bale grouphouse (see a slideshow of the construction here), my rewiring job wasn’t getting completed quickly enough for me. I was living in a house with wires coming out of cuts in the walls and wires rolled out this way and that across the floors, very Medusalike. Enough waiting! It started to feel like my house might come alive, grab me and eat me.
Time to throw a party, I thought. Since being a squeaky wheel hadn’t gotten the job done, I set a date for a party and said that I needed the work done by that time. Iuval detected my suffering and volunteered to finish the job. Why not, I thought. He’s a physicist, so it’s possible I could have my house rewired and have a wormhole to the fifth dimension installed for no extra charge. He would finish the job in time for me to host Heathcote’s Inauguration Day party. I thought this was the end of my visit from Kali, the goddess of chaos. But no; She laughs yet. People are her toys, her candy.
And deliciously, people come in flavors, different operational styles. Some like to have things decided while others prefer to endlessly collect data. Some like to work in teams, others are lone wolves. Iuval and my community mate John are, shall we say, from different sections of the candy box. So when minimalist Iuval took over the job from by-the-book John, sparks flew, and not from my outdated wiring.
Some background on the players:
Iuval is very passionate about eliminating the enslavement of workers around the world who make our products. He tries to minimize what he owns, what he needs. He lives so simply that all his electrical needs are supplied by solar panels atop his converted school bus. He repairs the inexpensive products the rest of us might throw away. He does his own car and home repairs and is making plans to grow much, if not all of his own food. His own electrical needs are minimal and he projects this onto others with some judgment–because of our consumption of coal and nuclear driven electricity and because of the exploitation of the Third World workers who made the wire, boxes, switch plates, screws, clamps, etc., not to mention the endless gadgets we plug in.
John prides himself on jobs well done and on his listening and compassion. He wants his clients to feel he’s responding to their needs. So when he heard my requirements for updated electrical, with the computers, kitchen appliances, etc. that I wanted to protect, he studied manuals and came up with a design that follows code to the letter and puts as light a burden as possible on many circuits. He designed a three-way switch that would allow me to turn a light on at the bottom of my stairs and turn it off at the top. I’d requested this because of, well, you know, snakes. Also, Heathcote is a place where we care about codes. So John cares about codes and if he can complicate things this way and that and feel that, as a result, my house won’t burn down, well, he likes that.
I, Wren, can tend to assume too much and not ask clarifying questions. I like to delegate and I take people literally. So when John originally told me he could rewire my house in two days, I kept believing him long after he himself let go of that myth. And I didn’t ask details about his plan, including some aesthetic aspects that mattered to me later on. I’m not a fan of the “industrial look” in interior design, for example…Also, I have not educated myself about electrical wiring so I would not have known what clarifying questions to ask or how to assess John’s answers. And I haven’t taken over the job myself, although I considered when my friend Jas suggested that I just do it myself. To be honest, I’m playing the helpless female here.
So for those who haven’t already done the math, Iuval was quickly annoyed at the scale of John’s design and enraged that I and other Heathcoters would live so opulently, addicted to the global economy and its toys, apparently with no concern for our enslavement of workers who produce the endless parts needed. John, in turn, feared that Iuval would minimize the safety practices needed, ignore the improvements we were trying to achieve and burn down my house. As they went round after round with each other and each separately with me, I wanted to become an electrician. A lesbian electrician. A deaf lesbian electrician. Or I could sidestep the time and expense of trade school and the tragedy of never hearing music again if I would just date a lesbian electrician. Yeah!
Much to my weary annoyance, I could see we were the three of us faced with an AFGO–another fucking growth opportunity. So I tried to stick with it, deeply listening to each of them and rallying them to join me in discerning the highest good on every question of an unnecessary outlet or streamlined wiring job. But I have to admit I was jaded and distracted in this noble work by my experience at Heathcote. Over my fourteen years here, I’ve seen quite a few members come through with varying levels of expertise in electrical, plumbing, building, etc. And I’ve noticed one universal about them all. No matter if they’d been doing such work for six months or six decades, each one would arrive at Heathcote, point out several repairs or installations done in the recent or distant past and say, “Jeez, that guy didn’t know what he was doing!!! This is the worst job I’ve ever seen!!! You otta let me pull that whole thing out and do it over. I’ve done it a million times…” Do they teach this stuff in trade school?
You’ll never be out of work if you can point out imperfection.
So, as much as I love them both, having no wiring knowledge of my own, I couldn’t play Solomon. But our clear common ground, that we all wanted the job completed, kept us talking and trying. Iuval stayed with it. And John kept supplying him with tools and slave made materials. Iuval actually enjoyed the challenge and the work itself. And John was eventually relieved that my job was getting done, as his other job took more and more of his time. The two-day job is into it’s third week or so…Iuval disputes this and insists that I tell you he only worked on it here and there, a couple of hours a day. Fine. But it was dark outside and he was in his pajamas when he started each day, and it was dark outside and he was in his pajamas when he finished each day so, maybe physicists measure hours uniquely. He’s so cute in his pajamas…
As I write this, Iuval and John are in the loft, playing nicely and hanging a donated ceiling fan which I plan to thoroughly enjoy. My loft having an A-frame ceiling, I loose so much heat from my pellet stove in the peak. This ceiling fan should make my loft warmer and cut down on the overall amount of pellets I need to use each winter.